A 43-inch ceremonial sword that had been taken without proper authorization from the office of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was returned Monday to Iraq in an event at the home of Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, officials said.
Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it had been determined that “this ornate ceremonial sword cannot be considered a modern battlefield weapon and is therefore not eligible to be exported as a war trophy.”
Thus, the object, which had been brought into this country by U.S. military personnel, was “repatriated at a private ceremony held at Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily’s residence” in Washington, ICE said in a statement.
The sword was described as having an embellished blade and sheath with a gold inlaid inscription in Arabic declaring it to be a gift to Hussein.
It was advertised in the catalogue of an auction house in this country as “having been removed from Hussein’s personal office in the Iraqi military command complex in Baghdad” after his regime fell in 2003, according to ICE. Hussein was executed in 2006.
According to ICE, the auction catalogue asserted that the U.S. government had not claimed the sword and said that the person who consigned it had permission to keep it as a souvenir.
When special agents of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations learned last year that the sword was being auctioned, they began an inquiry, the ICE statement said.
Homeland Security agents seized the sword Jan 9, 2012, as a possible cultural artifact, ICE said.
In addition to being ineligible for export as a war trophy, ICE said, bringing “this historic sword” into the United States was prohibited by federal regulations banning trade or transfer of Iraqi cultural property.
The ICE statement quoted the associate director of Homeland Security Investigations as saying that cultural property, such as the sword, “represents part of a country’s history that should never have been” taken or auctioned.
The official, James Dinkins, said his agency would continue efforts “to ensure that current and future generations aren’t robbed of their nation’s history.”
In accepting the sword on behalf of Iraq’s government and people, Faily called Monday “one of these historic days that documents the deep relationship, cooperation and friendship” between the United States and his country.
He said it showed the commitment of the United States to rebuild Iraq and preserve its cultural heritage.
It could not be immediately learned Monday night who had presented the sword to the Iraqi dictator. Iraqi plans for the sword also were unknown.